Iowa loses more of its young, single, well-educated adults than any state except
North Dakota. They're fleeing in such numbers, in fact, that demographers predict
the state will face a drastic labor shortage within two decades.
It has led lawmakers to consider waiving the state income tax for everyone
under 30, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The proposal comes from the Republican leadership in the state Senate, which
estimates that the move would save the average twentysomething about $12 a week.
It would also cost the state treasury an estimated $200 million a year, but
that's money well-spent if it persuades a few thousand more bright, ambitious
young Iowans to stick around, according to the proponents.
"The ones like my 16-year-old daughter who say, 'I'm getting out of here
as soon as I can'
well, there's probably nothing we can do to keep them,"
conceded Sen. Jeff Lamberti, a Republican legislative leader. "But we really
have to get serious about this problem."
"Brain drain" has become a problem for all of the Great Plains states,
with young people leaving for bigger cities, hipper crowds, and warmer weather,
according to the Times. As in Iowa, their civic leaders are considering a variety
- At least eight small towns in Kansas are offering free land to any family
willing to try living on the prairie. The winters can be fierce and the cultural
attractions sparse, but then again, a brand-new four-bedroom house costs less
than $150,000, the Times reports.
- Counties in northwest North Dakota are trying reverse psychology. A website
they've set up describes the frozen frontier as too brutal for the typical
suburban softy to handle. "Do you have what it takes to be a 21st century
pioneer? Most don't," the website taunts. It goes on to admit that residents
are looking to recruit 5,000 hardy new neighbors and asks whether "you
just might make the cut."
- Former Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns held a job fair last year for University
of Nebraska alumni living in Denver, wooing them with a video of young professionals
who had happily traded the big city for the wide-open prairie.
In Iowa, skeptics of the tax-exemption plan say it will take much more than
an extra $600 a year to keep the young from moving out. For one thing, there's
nothing anyone can do about the winters there. For another, there's the 43 percent
of young adults in a 1999 state poll who cited the lack of entertainment as
their top gripe about Iowa.
But first on most locals' lists, according to the Times, is the lack of industry.
In Whiting, a town of 707 in far western Iowa, many drive half an hour north
to Sioux City or an hour south to Omaha, Nebraska, for work. Good jobs, not
to mention fulfilling careers, are hard to come by in rural Iowa.
"All the tax exemptions in the world are not going to help if you don't
have jobs," Whiting Mayor Nancy Brenden told the Times.
The tax-exemption proposal also draws skepticism from those raised on the Midwest
ethos of self-reliance, according to the Times. They consider it wrong on principle
to cut young adults a break just because they're young.
"Heavens, you bet they should pay. Why shouldn't they?" said Laura
Reitan, 43, who owns the local hair salon. "That's the American way: You
start working, you start paying."